Nick Diaz and the 5 Fighters Who Could Become UFC Champs with Improved Wrestling
Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks made the nights of respective opponents Nick Diaz and Carlos Condit awfully frustrating at UFC 158 at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Using wrestling dexterity and ground control, "GSP" and "Big Rigg" each provided basic blueprints for besting elite-level fighters like Diaz and Condit, two men who are seemingly content on solely developing their striking and submission games while essentially ignoring the evolution of their wrestling abilities.
Diaz and Condit have each dropped their last two bouts, and barring a favorable style matchup, the road ahead won't get smoother for either fighter.
It's not too late for fighters like Diaz and Condit to reign supreme over a division like St-Pierre and Hendricks. In order to do so, however, both men must reevaluate their approaches toward wrestling.
Here are the five fighters who could become UFC champs with refined wrestling skills.
5. Mark Hunt
He can't lay claim to any submission victories, but Mark Hunt more than makes up for his deficiencies on the ground with a wicked stand-up repertoire.
After losing six fights in a row (five via submission), Hunt made drastic improvements in the areas of submission and takedown defense.
"The Super Samoan" reaped the rewards and won his next four fights in the UFC, three of which came via knockout. Hunt has allowed just three takedowns in his last five fights.
But Hunt's aptitude for rendering foes unconscious will only take him so far. If Hunt intends to get a title fight with a takedown artist the ilk of Cain Velasquez, he's got to dramatically expand his bag of tricks in the realm of wrestling.
4. Nate Diaz
Like his older brother, Nick, Nate Diaz has never fully realized his potential in the UFC, and that's primarily because of his inability to outwrestle upper-echelon opponents.
In his last three losses, Diaz served up a combined 18 takedowns and scored just one.
Dong Hyun Kim scored three takedowns on Diaz en route to a unanimous decision win at UFC 125. At UFC 129, Rory MacDonald flattened Diaz seven times. Benson Henderson then floored the 27-year-old Californian eight times in their title fight at UFC on Fox 5.
With top-flight Brazilian jiu-jitsu chops and boxing skills to match, Diaz just needs to pepper in some takedown competency. Once he does, he could make a match with Henderson much more interesting.
3. Erik Koch
Ricardo Lamas put a temporary hold on the Erik Koch-hype train by grounding and pummeling the Duke Roufus-trained fighter nearly into an oblivion at UFC on Fox 6.
Koch stuffed six of seven shots from a persistent Lamas in the first round. But "New Breed" got grounded early in the second round and never got back up, eating elbow after elbow from Lamas until referee John McCarthy intervened and stopped the beating.
The loss to Lamas snapped an impressive four-fight winning streak for Koch that began in the WEC in early 2010.
Before that, Koch first flashed his subpar wrestling chops in a unanimous-decision loss to former UFC title challenger Chad Mendes at WEC 47. Mendes executed six of nine takedown attempts and passed Koch's guard three times.
Fortunately, the 24-year-old Koch has plenty of time to sharpen up his wrestling with experts like teammate and former Olympian Ben Askren. Like the Diaz brothers, Koch has every other facet of the game shored up.
2. Carlos Condit
Regardless of how enthralling he's looked in defeat, Condit went from not losing a fight in three years to dropping two straight—a fact that undoubtedly has "The Natural Born Killer" contemplating change.
Like the Diaz brothers and Koch, Condit possesses venomous striking and submission capabilities, but can't seem to keep his back off the mat against top-tier wrestlers.
Condit outstruck St-Pierre 190-172 in their title bout at UFC 154. However, GSP floored The Natural Born killer on seven of eight takedown attempts and passed Condit's guard an unprecedented eight times.
In his last outing, Condit outstruck Hendricks 94-69, but couldn't win the judges over after allowing Bigg Rigg to score on 12 of 15 takedown attempts.
Akin to Koch, the 28-year-old Condit has the time and the resources to become a better wrestler. If he doesn't, he can expect similar brawls against potential opponents Jake Ellenberger and MacDonald in the near future.
1. Nick Diaz
In essence, a blatant lack of preparation cost Nick Diaz his fight with GSP before he ever graced the Octagon.
Diaz did so by failing to team up with the proper training partners to prepare for St-Pierre's wrestle-heavy assault at UFC 158.
So instead of sparring with world-class wrestlers, Diaz admittedly used his training camp to polish his strengths against some of the young guns from the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu camp.
Thanks to the perpetual threat of a takedown, St-Pierre outstruck Diaz 210-80, including 105-41 in the significant strikes category. GSP also flattened Diaz nine times, the same number of takedowns landed by Karo Parisyan on "The Stockton Bad Boy" way back at UFC 49.
It's undeniable that Diaz possesses extraordinary talent and a tremendous work ethic. However, the 29-year-old Californian won't ever see his goal of wearing UFC gold materialize unless he radically progresses in the field of wrestling.